Graham: It won’t always be this bad, but Syracuse football is middling out

first_imgAfter Boston College stretched Syracuse’s losing streak to four games, kept the Orange winless in conference via a 58-27 thrashing and came four rushing yards shy of 500 on the day, head coach Dino Babers settled into his seat at the folding table in front of the media. He adjusted his microphone and like a metronome on a beat delivered what’s become his stump speech.“Obviously extremely disappointed about the outcome of the game. I think the young men did play hard, obviously the score did not indicate that,” Babers said. “We’ve got to find something to hang our hat on, we’ve got to get into this break and dig deep and find out about ourselves.”To Babers and his players’ credit, they haven’t made excuses this season — one in which Syracuse (3-6, 0-5 Atlantic Coast) has yet to beat a Power 5 opponent as the calendar turns to November. But the frustrating truth remains: That after a 10-win season, Syracuse regressed badly. And though 2019 is a harsh example of what SU can expect in the ACC, it’s a more realistic future expectation than 2018’s double-digit wins.Syracuse’s regression in areas it excelled in 2018 — turnover margin, sacking opposing quarterbacks while protecting its own and penalties — was expected. But the differentials have been brutal.The offensive line issues are well documented and with a quarter of the season left, the numbers paint a bleak picture. Syracuse’s surrendered the most sacks (45) in Division I football, eight more than the Orange did in 2018.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textAside from flawed pass protection, the Orange hurt themselves with penalties worse this year than any other under Babers. SU’s never been called for more than 94 penalties in a season with Babers at the helm and never given up more than 61 penalty yards per game in a season. The 2019 team is on pace for 112 penalties at nearly 76 yards per game. And on top of swelling sack numbers and skyrocketing penalties, SU’s turnover margin is notably lower than the fifth-ranked plus-13 gap the Orange created a season ago.“We need to get better,” Babers said on the Monday before SU lost to Pitt, 27-20. “And what normally happens with football teams at this stage of the game is that everyone looks at their young players. Well, your young players should be developing. But you have to lean on your older players. So, my thing is, we need our older players — our best players have to be our best players.”Karleigh Merritt-Henry | Digital Design EditorTo Babers’ point, Syracuse is, in fact, young and inexperienced this year. On the offensive line, redshirt freshman Carlos Vettorello and true freshman Matthew Bergeron are starting at the tackle position, Bergeron taking over for graduate-transfer Ryan Alexander who left the team prior to the Florida State game. It’s a stark contrast from last year’s line that featured experienced tackles Koda Martin and Cody Conway. SU’s current tackles have 11 starts combined and there’s no guarantee they turn into the monsters from a season ago. Even if they do, it’ll take a couple years.On defense, the Orange are well short of their 43-sack mark in 2018 while having to break in new linebackers and interior linemen. In the secondary, three second-year players — Ifeatu Melifonwu, Trill Williams and Andre Cisco — are still learning.Still, by the midway point of the season, when Babers himself said players are more seasoned than they were in camp, the product on the field doesn’t look much better.To say that Syracuse is having some growing pains is correct, but incomplete — they’re also missing the necessary skills to compete. As Babers said before playing Boston College, it relies on “elephants and hippos” up front on the offensive and defensive line and the Orange are missing several fringe-NFL talents on both sides.And with all that arrives the bigger truth for Syracuse: To have success like it did in 2018, Syracuse will need the perfect blend of talent, experience and luck that will only come together on rare occasions. Otherwise, it’ll be left to claw its way out of the dregs of the conference like this year.“Not going to point any fingers at any particular group,” senior Kenneth Ruff said. “We all have to come along and at the end of the day we all have to play together as a team. The first few weeks we didn’t do that. Everybody wanted to have their name in the lights. It’s not about that.”The ACC wasn’t very good last year — teams not named Clemson or Syracuse (which combined for 24 wins in 2018) finished with a collective 45.8 winning percentage. The 2019 ACC isn’t much better, with the 10 teams that aren’t Clemson or Wake Forest winning just 51.5 percent of games. In any given year, the ACC lends itself to one non-Clemson team surging to 10 wins. Last year was Syracuse’s turn.That’s the reality Syracuse exists in.Babers recruits at a solid level, runs his program well and should develop some of SU’s young talent into good football players. It will surely not rank dead last in the country in sacks two years in a row or get penalized at a crippling rate.But with SU’s limited pool of talent, reliance on some good luck and seemingly constant need to build depth at one position group or another, 10 wins isn’t a realistic resting expectation for seasons to come. Neither is three.Last season was the pendulum swinging one way for Syracuse, this year is it coming back. The hope — and most likely outcome — for the future is to end up somewhere in the middle.Andrew Graham is a senior staff writer for The Daily Orange where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @A_E_Graham Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on November 6, 2019 at 12:56 amlast_img read more